Houston-area schools scramble to pull textbook downplaying slavery

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Textbooks at one Pearland school called slaves 'workers' and interpreted slavery as 'immigration.' (KTRK)

The publisher of a high school textbook that referred to slaves brought to America as "workers" is apologizing and says more diversity will be added to review boards.

McGraw-Hill has been under fire since Pearland mother, Roni Dean-Burren, posted her disbelief on social media about the wording in her 15-year-old son's world geography textbook.

Dean-Burren had no idea her video would get so much attention.

"I thought it was worthy of that because I think that's a really big deal," she says. "That's just a level of sort of minimizing history or telling the story in a way that suits the winners."

Her son is one of thousands of students in the Houston area who use this particular McGraw-Hill World Geography textbook. State education officials say roughly a quarter of the state's 1,200 school districts are using digital or physical versions of the book in classrooms this year.

In the Houston area, Spring ISD has the digital and hard copy, but has pulled the hard copy. Klein and Clear Creek ISDs only use the digital version. And CyFair ISD also uses the digital version, but has a handful of hard copies. Those have been pulled.

Houston city councilman, and former chairman of the State Board of Education, Jack Christie says some factions have been trying to change the language of history for years.

"This is just a symptom of what they were doing to try to cleanse. And the textbook publishers have to do what these members demand of the textbooks," he says.

Even if it softens the reality.

"It's like making sausage. You come out with a product that a lot of 'experts' put together. Sometimes the politics of it can cause an abrasion in that intellectual process," says Christie.

"Slavery was not the best part of history. It was not a happy story," adds TSU professor Dr. Bernnell Peltier-Glaze. "But it was in fact something that did happen, and it contributed to the success of America today."

Dr. Peltier-Glaze is the Associate Dean of TSU's College of Education. Not knowing which other books misrepresent slavery in the same way, she says it's up to teachers to stand up for right.

"When they come across a mistake, such as the one in the textbook, they should be the ones who challenge it. And they should take a stand and say I'm not going to teach incorrect information," she says.

Below is a memo McGraw-Hill Education's President/CEO sent to employees:

    Subject: Slavery, Geography and an Apology

    Dear MHE,

    In life and business mistakes are made. The first step in correcting them is acknowledging them.

    We made a mistake.

    Last week a high school student and his mother in Texas raised an issue about our World Geography textbook, which includes a caption that says, "The Atlantic Slave Trade between the 1500s and 1800s brought millions of workers from Africa to the southern United States to work on agricultural plantations." The mother posted a video on Facebook about the caption and many people who were understandably hurt and offended by the caption responded on Facebook and elsewhere.

    Slavery was a horrible part of American history. And while the book and program from which it is drawn do describe the origins of the Atlantic Slave Trade, the forcible capture and enslavement of Africans, and the millions of lives lost, we need to do more to make sure that it is depicted accurately and fully in all instances.

    We are deeply sorry that the caption was written this way. While the book was reviewed by many people inside and outside the company, and was made available for public review, no one raised concerns about the caption. Yet, clearly, something went wrong and we must and will do better.

    To learn from this and to do all we can to prevent this from happening again, we are reviewing our internal processes to understand how it occurred.

    We have already committed to increase our list of reviewers to reflect greater diversity.

    We believe there are opportunities to use the attention raised around this difficult issue in a positive way. To that end, we are creating a lesson plan around the Atlantic Slave Trade that we will give to teachers free of charge to use while discussing the content. And, as we said last week, we are changing the digital version of the caption. We are also exploring other ways to get the new caption into the printed text quickly with the least disruption to students and teachers.

    All of us at MHE are committed to education and care passionately for the students, teachers and communities we serve.

    We have all been hurt by this mistake and we need to correct it. We will.



The company has proposed three options to correct the mistake:

1) Opaque override stickers with revised language to cover the existing caption on page 126, or
2) Opaque override stickers with revised language paired with a lesson that teachers can utilize to facilitate classroom dialogue on the topics of communication, language awareness, and cultural competency, or
3) Replacement Student Edition Textbooks

Pearland ISD also sent a statement about its future use of the book: "In Pearland ISD, textbooks are used as a resource and do not drive the curriculum. We're proud that our teachers serve as the primary resource for information on the curriculum in which they teach.

High school social studies teachers will utilize different resources in teaching that content until an update has been made to the McGraw-Hill World Geography textbook."
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